Critical Analysis of "The Yellow Wallpaper"

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Jul 5, 2019 at Free Literature Essays Online as Urgent Writing Help

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The narrator starts her short story by marveling at the magnificence of the residence and grounds her spouse has chosen for their summer holiday. She demonstrates it in passionate expressions as an ‘aristocratic property’ or ‘a peculiar house’ and marvels how they were capable of affording it (Gilman 76). She has a lingering question of why the house had been unoccupied for so long. It is evident from the narrative that Charlotte Perkins Gilman employs her brief story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ to make unwavering assertions regarding feminism and individuality. In summary, the author provides three main themes that tackle individuality and feminism aspects of the story. They are; the subordination of women in matrimony, the significance of self-expression and the iniquities of the resting cure.

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Thesis statement; while the story is based principally on the neurosis of a woman, the message derived from the story is not related to this, and Gilman seeks to bring out a message of personal expression by documenting the sequence of the illness, via the condition of the wallpaper.

The Subordination of Women in Matrimony

In the short story, Gilman employs the principle of psychological dismay to criticize the situation of women in marriage, particularly as done by the reputable persons of that time. When the short narrative was initially published, the majority of readers perceived it as a creepy tale regarding a woman in an extreme condition of consciousness; a fascinating and unsettling entertainment. It is instantaneously obvious from the story that the woman permits herself to be second-rate to men, especially her husband John. The man creates this subordination by being a controlling husband. He has special instructions for her; to remain in bed, hold back her imagination, and most prominently to stop her writing (Gilman 77). Although she feels lively when she writes and believes it could be beneficial, she fails to express herself. She writes down her feelings instead of expressing them to her husband. In writing, she disagrees with others’ ideas and believes that congenial work with change and excitement would do her good. Her statement, "What is one to do?” (80), reveals her inadequacy of self-confidence and emotion of inferiority. For Gilman, the traditional 19th century middle-class matrimony with its inflexible distinction between the household roles of the female and the dynamic job of the male guaranteed that women stayed second-class partners. The story shows that this sex division had the consequence of sustaining women in a childlike state of unawareness and preventing their complete development. John’s supposition of his personal superior understanding and maturity makes him patronize, misjudge and control his wife in the name of assisting her.

The Significance of Self-Expression

The narrator is ultimately driven insane by the psychological constraints as compared to the physical ones. She is forced to conceal her anxieties and fears so as to protect the picture of a successful marriage and pretend as if she is overcoming the fight against her despair. From the start, the most unbearable aspect of her handling is the enforced silence and joblessness of the resting cure. She is obligated to become totally passive, prohibited from exercising her mentality in any manner. Writing in particular is limited, and John cautions her numerous times that she must employ her self-restraint to control her thoughts, which he worries, will flee with her. Indeed, the narrator’s ultimate lunacy is a creation of the subjugation of her imaginative authority, not the expression of it. She regularly desires for an intellectual and emotional outlet, to an extent of keeping a secret journal, which she depicts more than one occasion as a “relief” to her psyche. For Gilman, a brainpower that is reserved in a condition of forced idleness is doomed to self-destruction.

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The woman's descriptions of the wallpaper appear to be figurative of the development of her illness, and, throughout the paper, she observes herself. The wallpaper, when initially established, provides the social setting between the woman and her sickness. The paper is illustrated as being “…dull enough to perplex the eye in following, marked enough to continuously irritate and provoke learning,” (81). This subsection is tremendously significant in the story, revealing not only how the lady emotionally sees herself, but also what her partner's treatment is causing. Her depiction of the paper as being "dull enough to perplex the eye" and "continually irritating and infuriating study" is revealing her sense of lowliness and burden. The lame unsure curves she discusses are probably the reference point to the preposterous suggestions that her spouse suggests for her, and "suicide" illustrates the fate that is intended to come if followed. The unheard of incongruities express the flaws of John's strategies. The husband tells her that she can help herself out of the situation if she utilizes her will and self-control and not let fancy ideas stray her (83). However, he does not let her accomplish what she wills to accomplish and what she identifies she should perform, which is to utilize her mental power and express herself. This is a revelation that self-expression is essential in the healing process though the narrator was not given a chance.

The Iniquities of the Resting Cure

Gilman prearranged her narrative as an attack on this unproductive and cruel method of therapy. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is a demonstration of how the mind that is already overwhelmed with nervousness can get worse and start to prey on itself once it is forced into idleness and kept from physical work. To his praise, Mitchell who is mentioned in the narrative, took Gilman’s disapproval to heart and deserted the “resting cure” (87). Beyond the precise method described in the story, Gilman condemns any medical care that disregards the concerns of the patient, considering a woman merely as an inactive object of therapy. The woman illustrates writing as a relief, but due to John's continuous surveillance, she begins to direct her thoughts elsewhere. Consequently, she starts to daydream regarding the wallpaper. She envisages people, colorful artwork, scenes, and typically whatever thing conceivable on the paper. The more she allows herself hallucinate and exercise her mind, the more positive she gets. At first she acknowledges a lady in the paper creeping about and stooping down (83). This makes her scared.

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The lady who, for some moment, is concealed in the backdrop of the paper represents the main character's fear of imparting herself and her judgments, though with control. The correlation between a woman’s subordination in the marriage and the subordination in a physician/patient association is apparent; John is the narrator’s spouse and doctor. Gilman denotes that both kinds of power can be easily mismanaged even when the spouse or doctor seeks to assist. All too common the females who are the soundless subjects of this power are infantilized.


In conclusion, Gilman’s message in the short story dwells on individuality and feminism. This is demonstrated in various points of view as from subordination to self-expression to resting cure. The correlation between a woman’s subordination in the marriage and the subordination in a physician/patient association is apparent, and the rest cure theory discontinued.

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